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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Is There Something Ironic About Buying Vinyl Online?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 15, 2011 at 5:28 PM

click to enlarge We use our newest gadgets to buy some of our lowest-tech gear.
  • We use our newest gadgets to buy some of our lowest-tech gear.

A colleague today raised this question: Is it ironic, or weird, or even funny, to buy vinyl -- analog music -- online?

The issue was prompted by the news of Vinyl Dreams, a new online-only record store started by Michelangelo Battaglia (a former electronic/dance buyer for Amoeba Music in the Upper Haight) and Darren Davis, who used to own Tweekin' Records in the Lower Haight. The store will be online-only, and it will apparently only sell vinyl. Clearly it's not the first online record retailer -- but it may be the first online-only vinyl shop based in S.F.

Our colleague (whom you may as well know is SF Weekly Clubs Editor John Graham) says the practice of buying analog music in the digital world cracks him up. Not in a bad way -- it's just ironic and kinda funny.

Usually we do our vinyl buying at record shops -- San Francisco, after all, has no shortage of them. But having purchased several LPs online in the last few months, we'd never stopped to think about what a strange thing that process actually is. After all, anything we could buy on vinyl, we could get more quickly and more cheaply in digital form. Of course, we buy vinyl for the physical thing, the big artwork, the amazing sound, and for some strange mystical/romantic quality that we can't really explain.

But ponder the process: You (we) go into the digital ether -- probably after downloading a track or streaming a video of what we're about to buy -- and order some other person to mail us a piece of 1890s technology. In return, we give them digital payment information which they then use -- working in that same newfangled ether -- to make our digitally stored money numbers get smaller and theirs larger. All this high-tech action for an old-school piece of plastic.

Then there's the phonograph technology itself, which is of course the epitome of analog: A needle runs along a groove cut into a piece of vinyl, then sends out a signal based on its tiny movements. Yet somehow this technology -- which is older than airplanes, television, transistor radios, the modern map of Europe, women's suffrage, and lots of other things we take for granted -- is still the preferred way of listening to music for a lot of people. The Internet hasn't changed shit -- it just gets the records to our doorstep faster, and lets us buy ones the local shops don't have. (For more thoughts on that, read Richard Metzger's brilliant piece on the reissue of Kill City, by Iggy Pop and James Williamson, and be aghast at how long it used to take a kid in rural West Virginia to buy relatively obscure punk records through the mail.)

Stepping back and pondering it all for a second, we think Graham's got a point: Buying vinyl online is pretty ironic. What do you think?


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